Lost in paradise — Survival tips when you get lost in the woods or on the water

Have you ever gotten turned around in the woods or while fishing? If not, it can happen on any trip afield. Here are some tips on how to ensure you’ll be found.

It was one of the most unsettling moments in my 50 years of hunting. In 30 minutes I had gone from standing in a familiar spot to being completely turned around.

My cousin Clay Scoggin and I were crow hunting on Boeuf WMA and had set up at one of our regular spots on either side of an ATV trail.

After a few minutes of fruitless calling, I headed back to the trail, but decided to skirt around a briar patch. Then I hit more briars and went around them, too.

Knowing Clay was waiting, I moved quickly and kept angling back to where the trail should be. Unfortunately, it was overcast with no prevailing wind and there were no discernible features in the woods.

My internal compass failed me.

It finally hit me with a jolt that I was not going to find the trail and that I didn’t know in which direction to walk. I yelled loudly but heard nothing in response.

I then fired my shotgun, and heard Clay respond in kind — in the opposite direction I was heading.

Later, I discovered that my mishap could have been avoided if I had simply studied a map. The reason I couldn’t find the ATV trail was that I assumed it continued straight from my original position, when it actually made a sharp turn away from me.

Getting lost in the Sportsman’s Paradise can happen to anyone.

Just ask Dr. Laura Chauvin, an oncologist at Thibodaux’s Cancer Treatment Center. After making a few crossbow hunts with her husband and LouisianaSportsman.com blogger Josh, Laura decided she was ready to go solo.

From the parking lot at R.K Yancey WMA, Josh took Laura to her hunting spot about a mile in the woods. The trail was somewhat overgrown, but there was a line of short trees and a ditch alongside it, so Josh didn’t think she would have any problem following it back out after dark.

After sunset, Laura packed up her gear and headed back, but immediately ran into trouble.

“In the dark,” she explained, “the old unmaintained trail was not apparent, and I couldn’t find the tree line.”

Having lost the trail, Laura decided to use her GPS to cut through the woods to the parking lot. Soon afterward, the GPS started to lose its signal and began pointing in different directions.

“Every once in a while it would tease me and point straight up or a little to the left, so I began to suspect it wasn’t working right,” she said.

Laura’s cell phone had a GPS feature — but the cell phone’s battery was dead.

Now, deep in the dark woods with no electronic devices to guide her, Laura got spooked.

“There was big rustle that seemed right behind me, maybe just 5 feet away, and I heard a snort or a grunt, and (I) thought something was coming at me,” she said. “I grabbed my knife, and then froze and the ‘something’ ran off the other way.”

Unknowingly, Laura walked in a circle and happened to spot some toilet paper she had left near her stand.

Relieved that she now knew where she was and could start over, she headed back to the vehicle again. A little later, however, she came across the toilet paper again — and then a third time.

“When it showed its ugly pile for the third time, I was mad and frustrated and defeated,” Laura Chauvin said.

Wisely, Laura decided to wait there for her husband to find her.

Josh got back to the vehicle an hour after dark and was surprised that Laura was not waiting for him. When he called her cell and it went straight to voice mail, Josh took off running down the trail.

“I found my wife huddled down where I dropped her off, as though she never left in the first place,” he said. “But upon closer inspection, she was all scratched up and sweaty, covered in spider webs and leaves, and grasping an unsheathed knife on the verge of breaking down.”

When the Chauvins got a signal on Laura’s GPS they discovered that she had never made it more than a couple of hundred yards from her stand. Josh said the cookie trail was revealing.

“(It) showed a path that looked like a sonar screen with all the circles she walked,” Josh said. “Laura didn’t find the GPS screen as funny as I did.”

A trooper, Laura didn’t let the frightening experience stop her: She later returned to the same spot and killed her first hog.

Lt. Lane Kincaid, of the Wildlife & Fisheries Strike Force in Monroe, has plenty of experience locating lost outdoorsmen.

When alerted that someone is missing, his agents go through a methodical process to find them.

“We first contact friends and family members,” Kincaid said. “Hopefully (the lost sportsman) let someone know where they were going so we know where to start searching. We also might get a cell-phone number and try calling the person.”

“If they have a cell phone and can get service, they can give us some landmarks. They might say, ‘I crossed a pipeline or a creek,’ and with our knowledge of the area we can get an idea of where they are.”

Rescuers also use their audible devices as a means of fixing a location.

“Often, if we are in contact by cell phone, we’ll turn on our sirens or use our P.A. system,” Kincaid said. “Then they can let us know when they hear us and give us some direction or yell to let us know where they are.”

But what if the searchers don’t have any specific information?

“Then we’ll first check the major boat ramps or parking areas to see if we can find their vehicle and have a place to start from,” Kincaid explained.

As a last resort, searchers can get high tech. Wildlife enforcement agent Thomas Risser said some parish 911 systems can trace a phone’s location.

“In those parishes, if we can contact the lost person by phone, we tell them to call 911, and their coordinates will pop up on the responder’s screen,” Risser said. “We can then put it into a GPS and go find them.”

Unfortunately, as Laura Chauvin discovered, having a cell phone or GPS serves little purpose if you can’t get a signal or the battery dies.

So always carry a compass and learn the lay of the land: A little preparation beats spending the night in the woods.

About Terry L. Jones 115 Articles
A native of Winn Parish, Terry L. Jones has enjoyed hunting and fishing North Louisiana’s woods and water for 50 years. He lives in West Monroe with his wife, Carol.